Study Guide

Modern Physics

Modern Physics Introduction

We've learned all about the interactions and reactions that we see in the world around us, so what's left to learn physics-wise a la Shmoop? Simple: things that are too small for us to ever see with our peepers. Even microscopes have a difficult time with the atomic level a century after modern physics began.

Atoms, electrons, protons, nuclear fission, binding energy…it's all mysterious. Up until now. We might not be able to observe directly these mysterious parts of the universe, but we can observe them through modern experimentation. That means that today is the day we dig into atomic, nuclear, and particle physics, with a little quantum mechanics on the side, of course.

Our understanding of these things have helped us built cellphones, the internet, and power plants to make it all run, so it's kind of a big deal.

We'll start from the "big" stuff (atoms) and work our way to subatomic particles, We need to put quotations mark around the word "big" because an atom is about a million times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. The "small" stuff in particle physics is unimaginably small, but we can still study them, which is pretty cool.

Ever heard of atomic bombs? Now we get to find out how they work. No, not by experimentation. We're keeping it legal. Oh—and we even get to find out what this mysterious "anti-matter" is all about.

Modern Physics Resources


A Nuclear Summary
Comfortably review the concepts of nuclear and atomic physics by watching a series of clips from the Discovery Channel, iced with some of Hawking theories.

Classified Ghosts of the Nuclear Past
Watch a shocking PBS documentary on the development of atomic weapons after World War II, complete with sneaky Russians, imprudent Americans and a bunch of classified information.

13.8 Billion Years Summarized in 10 Minutes
A 10-min animated film recreating the big bang. Particles, explosions, nucleosynthesis– this clip has it all.

Charades with Sheldon Cooper
Penny is clueless, but can you guess what Sheldon is trying to say?

Games and Tools

Distortingly Neutral
Travel to a neutron star into its visually distorting gravitationally fields. Hope you don't get space sick…

Work at CERN
It's the chance of a lifetime! Work for a day at the largest particle accelerator laboratory in the world and come smash particles together.

Non-Trivial Trivia Facts
Cool, fun and quick facts about physics that'll impress everyone (including yourself) and crown you winner of any physics-related trivia game.

(Atomic) Master of the Universe
Ever wanted to name an element after you? Here's your chance to design your own atom.


Cautiously Late
Peruse an article about how political leaders of the world finally agreed to ban all open-air nuclear testing in 1963.

A 3.3 Million-Year Baby
Read about how a team of archeologists uncovered the world's oldest fossil in North Ethiopia.